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World

How U.S. Protests For Racial Justice Have Impacted The Country's Global Image

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The Trump administration sent federal agents to Portland, claiming the unprecedented move was aimed at stopping violence there. And the images of federal agents on the streets drew comparisons to urban warfare. This week, they were pulled back. Here's what KATU TV found Thursday, the first night after the pullback.

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UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Portland police said that protesters were doing some of the enforcing overnight in front of the federal courthouse, some putting out fires, others telling some people who were climbing the fence to get down. And as a result, Portland police say that there weren't any interactions overnight downtown or any arrests.

FADEL: So is this the best way to manage civil unrest or not to manage it? Ali Kadivar teaches sociology and international studies at Boston College. And he's studied uprisings across the globe. Welcome to the program.

ALI KADIVAR: Thank you for having me.

FADEL: So that question may sound glib to the personnel inside the Portland federal courthouse, which was essentially under attack, or to people in Minneapolis, who watched a largely peaceful protest movement after George Floyd's killing turn violent at times. How would you answer it?

KADIVAR: What we know about the interaction between repression and mobilization is that it can go both ways. There are times that repression dampens mobilization. But there are also other times that repression leads to further mobilization. It would be like throwing fuel on the fire.

FADEL: And sending federal personnel in - was that fuel?

KADIVAR: Yes. I think that was fuel. One video that went viral was a veteran that just went to stand in front of the agents. And they just pepper-sprayed him, again, even though he was not posing any threat. And in the next few days, we saw that the line of veterans then showed up. I think that is the kind of example that shows, yes, this has been throwing fuel on the fire.

FADEL: You study uprisings across the globe. Are the demonstrations here in the U.S. and the states' reaction to the protests following any patterns that we've seen before in other countries?

KADIVAR: Yes, I think there has been similarities in the developments we have seen in the U.S. over the last few years. For example, a similarity that I think was a couple of months ago was the white, armed protesters that, for example, stormed Michigan's legislature building. The president pretended that this is just some spontaneous protest by some American people. This is also a tactic we have seen are widely used in authoritarian settings, such as in Russia and in Iran. The only kind of a spontaneous protest that they allow is the ones that show support for the regime.

And we saw this kind of question was brought up in the questions for Attorney General Barr by one of the members of Congress that - what is it that when Black people protest, the federal government deploy troops, but when white, armed people protest to support President Trump, the president just tweets support for them?

FADEL: So are you saying that the U.S., which is a democratic nation, is now at the level of these more authoritarian nations in reaction to domestic protests?

KADIVAR: Part of it is in reaction to domestic protest. But it's not only in reaction to domestic protest. The democracy has been eroded in the United States. We haven't had a complete democratic breakdown. We might have that in case of the election postponement or in case President Trump then wouldn't concede if he loses the vote. It's hard for a lot of Americans to imagine that kind of thing could happen. But democracies have broken down before. And we cannot just trust the institutions to hold themselves together. I think there are some crucial months ahead of us.

FADEL: That's Ali Kadivar of Boston College. Thank you so much.

KADIVAR: Thank you very much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.